New Delhi has rightly chosen to downplay the reported Al-Qaeda threat “to strike against Indian interests”, with both the Home Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs reacting cautiously to it. In a video posted on a website, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, an American Al-Qaeda member, was quoted as accusing India of “killing more than 100,000 Muslims in Kashmir with US blessing” and declaring that all Indian and American diplomatic missions are “legitimate targets.” Considering that surprise is invariably the key element of any terrorist attack, such specific warnings need to be taken with that proverbial pinch of salt. And with the Independence Day celebrations just round the corner, security agencies would in any case be on their toes.
But having said that, the government cannot afford to take such threats too lightly either. For one, this is the first time al-Qaeda has advertised that it has India squarely in its sights. Intelligence agencies have been warning for some time that the terrorist group may have changed its tactics, especially for its operations in the West and countries like India. Instead of directly involving itself in terrorist activities outside Iraq and Afghanistan, it would seem al-Qaeda is using its propaganda wing, As Sahab, to indicate targets to individual terror cells through messages from its leaders like Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The other reason for New Delhi to be particularly concerned is that the latest video threat comes close on the heels of National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan’s revelation last week that an al-Qaeda team recently did a recce in India. Which makes the inevitability of the country remaining on high alert starker than ever before. Only a mix of heightened vigilance and increased law-enforcement presence will suffice. For that to happen, however, the security system will have to give up its fire-fighting tradition, swinging into action after an incident rather than working to prevent it. It should instead bank more on technology and human — and canine — intelligence to second-guess terror strikes.